Sun, Aug 25, 2013 - Page 9 News List

Post-apartheid students still divided by differing graduation rates

A Council on Higher Education report from South Africa says more than half of black students fail to graduate and urges radical curriculum overhaul

By David Smith  /  The Guardian, JOHANNESBURG

The CHE says starkly: “It is common cause that the shortcomings and inequalities in South Africa’s public school system are a major contributor to the generally poor and racially skewed performance in higher education.”

However, with little prospect of an improvement in schools in the short term, universities must come up with their own remedies, the CHE says. Funding students alone is not the answer, since many who fail to complete their studies are not indigent. “Equally important is addressing the affective or psychological and social factors that are also a barrier to success in higher education.”

The University of Cape Town (UCT), ranked the best in Africa, has a controversial policy of admitting black students who have substantially lower test scores than whites.

However, the CHE’s task team, chaired by former UCT vice-chancellor Njabulo Ndebele, stops short of recommending positive discrimination.

Instead, it urges an overhaul of a curriculum structure that evolved from the adoption, early in the 20th century, of the Scottish educational framework. This lineage is explained by colonial ties and, specifically, the fact that the South African school system — like Scotland’s — ended a year below the English A-level.

The CHE calls for an additional year as the norm for core undergraduate degrees and diplomas, within a flexible structure that allows for high-achieving students to finish more quickly.

“The projections presented indicate that the flexible curriculum structure would produce 28 percent [about 15,000] more graduates than the status quo from the same intake cohort, at an additional subsidy cost of only 16 percent, reflecting a significant increase in efficiency,” it says.

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